By Sean Ewing
Outside of the EB games 10 minutes from school, a few hundred people, of all ages milled around outside of the storefront, sipping coffee, nibbling on donuts, and waiting. At 11:50 a.m., the tension was palpable inside the store, people could see the their targets: Halo 2. Arguably the most anticipated video game in history, it sold over 1.5 million in pre-orders alone. Was it worth the wait?
The first thing that will grab you upon starting the game, are the graphics. Simply put, the character models here are astounding. The environments are amazing. The weapon effects are mind-blowing. They simply have to be seen to believed. The skin on character's faces actually looks real and raises the level of graphical detail to levels previously reserved for movies like Toy Story or Finding Nemo.
Each of the weapons has a distinct feel and very different properties. A plasma rifle feels different from a sub machine gun, which feels different from a brute shot, and so on. This creates a very balanced weapon system. Essentially, you are always trading off and this allows you to choose a weapon style that fits your method of play the best. You can pick up two smaller weapons and fire them simultaneously, but this restricts you from using rocket launchers, sniper rifles, grenades and other two handed weaponry.
The single player mode is a vast, cinematic, immersive experience. From the outset you are drawn into this deep universe, rife with conflict and mystery. The enigmatic Covenant are attacking humans all over the galaxy, and as the game starts, they have already mounted an assault on Earth. From there, the story unfolds like a James Cameron movie, with sweeping battle scenes and intense action in every scene. The pace is relentless and never lets up, but the ending really doesn't resolve anything. There is speculation that Bungie has a few surprises up their sleeve, but as it stands, the ending is the only mar on an otherwise perfect record.
Multiplayer is what will cement this game's legendary status. Ironically, it is also the most difficult to describe accurately. The control scheme is very customizable and can be configured for just about any setup and Bungee has made sure that the game is full of inventive maps and gameplay modes. Even classic favorites like Capture the Flag or Team Slayer have new twists if players are so inclined. All of these are impressive feats, but the fact of the matter is that the game is just fun. Something about it brings out the fiercest competitions, the most brutal smacktalk and just a truly blood-pumping experience.
The overall presentation of Halo 2 is clean cut. The menus are simple and unobtrusive. There's never unnecessary clutter on the screen, and the pace of the game is solid enough so that it never feels tedious. Each goal really feels important and vital to your overarching mission. The HUD simply displays your shields, grenades, and ammo, without taking up too much space.
Aurally, the game is stunning. The soundtrack is mostly stirring orchestral music, in the vein of war movies like Saving Private Ryan. This is an apt choice, as the musical choices really add a feel of desperation and heroism to the onscreen action and the end result is a soundtrack that takes an already amazing experience to new levels and helps transport you into the moment.
While the game is ridiculously good, there are some flaws. The most glaring, aside from the unresolved story, is the evident draw in on some of the cut scenes. This means that you'll actually see the scene being drawn in as it unfolds. This graphical hiccup takes you away from the experience, which is an absolute shame considering the amount of work done to draw you in.
Halo 2 is the game you've been waiting for if you own an Xbox, and the game you've been waiting for your friends to get if you don't have one. This game is a true classic in every sense of the word, bringing a sense of triumph and dignity the videogame market so desperately needs right now. Halo 2 is a true classic, and anyone even remotely interested in videogames owes it to themselves to experience it.
Final Grade: A+